Category Archives: Cooking Tips

Stove-Top Island Spice Popcorn with Coconut Oil and Turmeric

Pook's Pantry - Island Spice Popcorn

Popcorn.  It’s a movie theater staple and it is practically mandatory snacking for movie nights at home.  Heck, it’s even dinner sometimes.  While I’m not knocking butter and salt, I like to dress mine up a bit more.  I open the spice cabinet and put together concoctions that would make Harry Potter’s head spin. Popcorn doesn’t have to be Plain Jane,  it can be “Revved Up Rita” and this popcorn definitely turns it up a notch. 

We are old school in this house.  Popcorn is made on the stove.  We get out the big pot, pour the kernels in with a little oil and “shake, shake, shake” while we peer through the glass lid waiting for the magic to happen.  Freshly popped corn tastes so much better than the microwave kind.  It’s really not a hassle and it takes about 5 minutes longer than the bag.  You can use this seasoning on any popcorn, whatever your preferred popping method.  

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Instant Pot Tomatillo-Poblano White Beans

Tomatillo Poblano White Beans

Beans are the perfect introduction to the Instant Pot.  If you are new to the Instant Pot craze, or even if you’ve had yours for a while now, these beans will make their way into your regular rotation.  Tomatillo Poblano White Beans are my new favorite thing.  I made them a few weeks ago when there was some football game.  Everyone was making *quite* the fuss over it. Well, I had promised nachos for this sporting event and I delivered BIG thanks to these beans.  I warmed some tortilla chips in the oven, sprinkled a few things on them and then heaped these beans on top.  It was so dang good!!!

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One Pot Chicken and Spinach Pasta with Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce

One Pot Chicken and Spinach Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato SauceOne pot meals are a lifesaver.  Whether it is a special occasion or a busy weeknight, getting dinner on the table quickly, with a minimum of dirty dishes is always a win in my book.  This one pot chicken and spinach pasta with creamy sun-dried tomato sauce is a crowd pleaser every single time.  

I’m going to come right out and say it:  I’m not a big Valentine’s Day person.  There.  Judge me if you must.  I do however, enjoy making a nice meal for the one I love.  We always stay in for Valentine’s Day and I’ve done the big, fancy dinners that take hours to prepare and minutes to devour.  While that’s lovely and all,  I spend half the night in the kitchen.  This one pot meal is super delicious and did I mention… ONE PAN to wash?  Furthermore, I have better things to do on Valentine’s Day, like eat the entire box of candy.

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Winter Vegetable Soup

Winter Vegetable Soup l Pook's PantryThis post is sponsored by Idaho® Potatoes. As always, all opinions are my own.

It’s winter.  That means comfort food.  But, we’re also trying to eat a little healthier too, right? We’re making an effort to eat more vegetables because we want to get more bang for our buck in the nutrition department.  I’ve got you covered.  This soup is nearly fat free, it’s low in calories and contains a ton of vitamins, minerals and fiber.  While you are cozied up in the house, it’s the perfect time to put on a pot of this hearty winter vegetable soup.

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Crash & Burn Potatoes

Crash & Burn Potatoes l Pook's Pantry
This post is sponsored by Idaho® Potatoes. All opinions are my own.

If you are looking for a new way to serve potatoes, this is it!  I made these a few days ago with the intention of saving them for dinner that night.  I have news for you, they didn’t survive the afternoon.  We ate a few and then we ate more.   We even ate them cold because they were delicious.  Normally, the phrase “crash & burn” has a negative connotation to it, but not in this case. These little spuds are smashed (flattened) and roasted until super crispy then bathed in a spicy cinnamon malt vinegar sauce.  Hence, the name Crash & Burn Potatoes.

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Restaurant-Style Bloody Mary

How to make a Restaurant Style Bloody Mary

The Bloody Mary.  It is THE quintessential brunch beverage, yet I only have them at a restaurant.  Brunch and Bloody Mary’s go hand in hand.  We are going to make a restaurant-style bloody mary at home.  I made a killer batch of bloody mary’s last weekend and they were hands-down one of the best I’ve ever had.

First things first, we are making it from scratch.  The difference is remarkable when you don’t use a store-bought mix.  The drink tastes MUCH fresher and brighter, which if I’m being perfectly honest, can be dangerous.  I’m usually a two drink max kind of girl and I had two drinks in no time flat.  Consider yourself warned, because they go down Very Easily.

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Butter Pecan Biscotti with Chocolate Drizzle

Butter Pecan BiscottiButter Pecan Biscotti are perfect for holiday cookie exchanges and for sharing! One of my favorite ice cream flavors is butter pecan, so I wanted to turn it into a biscotti for giving away as homemade gifts for friends this holiday season.   

Normally, I am too busy to do much baking during the holiday season.  This year is different. We just moved to a new city and I am still healing from surgery so my time in the kitchen is limited. Baking loads of Christmas cookies is something that I really enjoy and these biscotti are going to be in the regular rotation. They received rave reviews around here and this house is well versed in cookie consumption.  Biscotti are an excellent option if you ship cookies to friends and family, like I do.  They hold up well and remain fresh much longer than normal cookies. 

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Lobster on Thick Cut Idaho®Potato Chips with Spicy Saffron Aioli

17-lobsterDress up your favorite Idaho® Potatoes with lobster and saffron aioli for a special holiday appetizer! Salty, crunchy thick-cut chips are a sturdy base for buttery lobster tail.  Topped with a spicy saffron aioli and chives, it makes an elegant nibble for any party.  This post is sponsored by Idaho® Potatoes. All opinions are my own.

The holiday season is upon us, which means HOLIDAY PARTIES!  It’s a special time of year, so I don’t feel guilty about a little splurge.  The end of one year, the beginning of a new one…  It’s a time to celebrate with friends and family and it’s a time to pull out all the tricks and SHINE!  I make one or two special appetizers for parties and lobster on thick-cut potato chips is no slouch.  The saffron aioli elevates it to “high falootin’ status” and this appetizer is always the first to disappear.  It looks much fussier than it actually is, everything except the chips can be made in the morning and set aside in the refrigerator for later.  This is key when you have lots to do before guests arrive.

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Picadillo (Cuban-Style Hash)

PicadilloPicadillo is Spanish for “hash” (or “mince”).  Essentially, this is a Cuban version of the good old American mélange, eaten on its own or used as a filling for empanadas. Spanish influences, specifically Andalusian, are obvious due to the addition of olives and raisins. Picadillo is often served topped with hard-cooked or fried eggs and is usually accompanied by fried plantains.

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Where are my fellow chile heads?!  
Although I love peppers, I’m not one of those crazy people that shoves whole habaneros in her mouth… funny story about that, actually.  
The year was 1993 and I was living in Guadalajara, México.  I was a student at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara and a group of us were out strolling the Mercado Libertad, which is a huge multi-level market.  It houses everything from food to shoes to flowers.  Here we are, a bunch of 20 year old kids walking around with eyes popping out of our heads.  This was the first time most of us had been on our own in a foreign country.  We happened upon this vendor of chiles.  You know where this is going, don’t you?!  A girl in our group stated that she could handle really spicy food and was going to buy a few peppers.   We tried (in vain) to warn her that these were seriously hot and she shouldn’t pop the entire thing into her mouth.  Let’s just that the afternoon took a turn… to the Emergency Room!   I guess I shouldn’t have said a “funny” story,  just “a story”.

I’m not one to eat a whole habanero, but I do enjoy a little heat.  The kind that makes your lips and tongue tingle, not the kind that feels like someone lit a match on them.   I seem to have a higher tolerance for heat than some, which means that I may not be the best person to ask if something is spicy. We burn through jars and jars of chile paste like it’s going out of style (I assure you, it is NOT). Most of the spicy food we eat happens to be Asian.  Bowls of noodles in fiery broth are my happy place.  Food from Latin America is a close second and for good reason: I’m married to a Texan, I used to live in Mexico and we currently live in Florida.  I chose this particular recipe to share because I love picadillo.  I know, I’m totally selfish.  I make big batches of this delicious filling to make empanadas.  The saltiness of the olives with the sweetness of the raisins is really good.

My very favorite thing about this book is its inclusion of food from around the globe.  I love exploring cultures through food and this book is a peek into how chile peppers really are a global ingredient.  It’s fun to try new recipes and flavors, especially when the recipes are so varied and enticing!  

Below is a short list of some of the 250 recipes you’ll find in this book.  I have my eye on the Spinach and Tomato Dal next…  What would be your first choice?
– Middle Eastern Walnut Dip (Middle East)
– Castilian Garlic Soup (Spain)
– Chinese Hot and Sour Mushroom Soup  (China)
– Paella (Spain)- Tagine of Chicken with Apricots (N. Africa)
– Cuban style hash (Cuba)
– Original San Antonio Chili (US)
– Indonesian-Style Fried Rice (SE Asia)
– Cape Verde Sausage Stew (Africa)
– Spinach and Tomato Dal (Indian)
– Calabrese-Style Fried Potatoes with Peppers (Italian)
– Thai-Style Grilled Chile Salsa (Thai/SE Asia)
– Kimchi (Korea)
– Mexican-Style Tomato Juice – (Mexico)
– Chile-Spiked Chocolate Pots – (French)

Picadillo (Cuban-Style Hash)
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 1 onion, chopped
  2. 1 each - red and green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  3. 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  4. 1⁄2 habanero pepper, minced
  5. 4  cloves garlic, minced
  6. 1 1⁄4 lbs lean ground beef
  7. 1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
  8. 1⁄2 tsp ground cumin
  9. 1 piece (2 inches/5 cm long) cinnamon stick
  10. 1⁄4 cup  dry sherry
  11. 1 can (28 oz/796 mL) tomatoes, with juice
  12. 1⁄2 cup dark raisins
  13. 12 large pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced
  14. Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For Garnish
  1. 2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
  2. Finely chopped fresh parsley
Instructions
  1. In skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, red and green bell peppers, habanero pepper and garlic and stir well. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook until vegetables are very soft, about 10 minutes.
  2. Increase heat to medium-high. Add beef and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add oregano, cumin and cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add sherry and cook, stirring, until almost all of the liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes and juice, and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir in raisins, olives, and salt and black pepper to taste. Cook until olives are heated through, about 1 minute.
  5. Transfer to a large deep serving platter. Sprinkle chopped eggs over top. Garnish with parsley. Serve hot.
Notes
  1. Gluten-Free Friendly!
Tips
  1. You can substitute Cubanelle peppers for the red and green bell peppers if you like.
  2. I have used a habanero here because these peppers are common throughout the Caribbean, and I like the slightly fruity flavor they impart to this dish. However, it may be more common to find picadillo made with jalapeño peppers, even though purists suggest that jalapeños are not used in Cuban cooking. Both chiles do a fine job of bringing heat to this dish, so use whatever is easiest or suits your taste. If you’re using jalapeños, you’ll need 1 to 2.
  3. Instead of garnishing the entire dish with chopped eggs, transfer individual servings to warm soup plates or deep bowls and top each with a fried egg. Garnish liberally with parsley.
Adapted from The Chile Pepper Bible
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This recipe has been reprinted courtesy of The Chile Pepper Bible: From Sweet & Mild to Fiery & Everything in Between by Judith Finlayson © 2016 www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold. I received one copy compliments of the publisher. No other compensation was received. Links to the book are affiliate links. 

If you’d like a chance to win a copy The Chile Pepper Bible of your own, make sure to enter the giveaway below!  Thanks to the publishers Robert Rose for providing a copy for the giveaway. It is open to US and Canadian residents!

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Swamp Monster Slow Cooker Jackfruit Gumbo

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jackfrui-swamp-gumbo

Halloween is fast approaching and if you are a fan of this fun holiday, you’re in for a treat (not a trick).    My friend Kathy has written a new cookbook full of fun, vegan Halloween food.   Her blog Healthy Slow Cooking is full of healthy options and is my “go to” source for vegan recipes. Whether you follow a vegan diet or not, there is something that everyone can enjoy.

I wanted to share this recipe with you because jackfruit is probably a fairly unfamiliar ingredient to most people.   I find it at my local Asian market.  Sometimes they sell the whole fruit, but more often it’s cut into pieces.  

jackfruit
A whole fruit can weigh as much as a small child, so getting a piece at the market is a much better option!  The best option when you don’t need 40 pounds of jackfruit: canned for convenience.

I love Kathy’s unique spin on this classic recipe.  If you are trying to eat less animal protein or you are curious about a vegan diet or you just want to try something new,  I would wholeheartedly recommend this and any other recipe by Kathy.   

Swamp Monster Slow Cooker Jackfruit Gumbo
Serves 4
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For the main gumbo
  1. 4 cups water
  2. 4 cups sliced okra (fresh or frozen)
  3. 3 cups diced tomatoes or 2 (14.5 ounce) cans
  4. 1 cup minced bell pepper (any color)
  5. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  6. 1 can (20 ounce) young green jackfruit in brine, rinsed with seeds removed *
  7. 2 large vegan sausages (Italian, Chik’n Apple, or Andouille), cut into quarters lengthwise and sliced
  8. 2 bouillon cubes (vegetable or vegan chicken flavor)
  9. 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning blend (see recipe at bottom)
  10. 3 bay leaves
For finishing
  1. 1 cup chopped spinach, kale or other mild green
  2. just enough water to puree, about 1/4 cup
  3. salt and pepper, to taste
  4. more Cajun seasoning blend, to taste – optional
For serving
  1. steamed rice (white, brown or forbidden)
  2. hot sauce
Make Your Own Cajun Seasoning Blend
  1. If you’re looking for a salt-free version or just can’t find it in your area, this little recipe will keep you in spicy goodness for awhile. The best part is you can make it as spicy or mild as you like!
  2. 2 teaspoons paprika
  3. 2 teaspoon thyme
  4. 2 teaspoons oregano or marjoram
  5. 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  6. 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  7. 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  8. 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  9. 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  10. 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  11. Combine all the ingredients well and store in a lidded container. You can also use a spice grinder to make it look more like store-bought.
Instructions
  1. In the morning: Add all the main gumbo ingredients to your 4 quart slow cooker. Cook on low 7 to 9 hours.
  2. 15 minutes before serving: Add the greens to a blender with a little water and purée until smooth. Then add salt, pepper and more Cajun seasoning if needed.
  3. Remove bay leaves and serve gumbo topped with the green “swamp” purée and a scoop of rice.
  4. * shred the jackfruit with your hands – it will happen easily as you remove the large seeds.
Notes
  1. This chunky stew is full of okra, tomatoes, vegan sausage and stringy jackfruit. One of my testers, Robin Fetter of The Real Vegan Housewife, says the soup had “an awesome foamy green effect on top” when she served it immediately, but that the green became less bright after twenty minutes. She highly recommends puréeing the greens into the soup.
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Below is a link to the Kindle edition of Kathy’s book!